When a person pours 37 years of themselves into a job, they should expect a few back pats and attagirls when they clock out for the final time. Some people may get a new pickup or a cruise or a watch.
Karen McAfee, who has led the strings program at Midland Lee High School for most of the last 37 years, didn't get a pickup. Or jewelry. Or a trip. She got much more.
In what had to be one of the most emotional nights ever to be staged at Lee High School, Mrs. Mac, as she is fondly known, was given a bouquet of flowers, a few kind words from her successor, and a standing ovation from the crowd. And just when you thought that was it, that's when the emotional stuff really kicked in.
Bo Garza, the assistant director of the strings program, kept Mrs. Mac from exiting stage left, escorted her to a seat in the first row and then proceeded to welcome onstage at least 75 of McAfee's former strings students. Together, her final orchestras and all those alumni, in a massive display of public affection, performed two last songs for her, including Andrew Lloyd Webber's heartstring-tugging "Music of the Night," which all the young (and not so young) students pulled off expertly. Midway through the grandest finale, Elgar's "Nimrod," from Enigma Variations, the much admired retiring high school orchestra conductor was again led to the stage and given the baton by Garza to lead what had to be more than 200 current and former students.
To say there wasn't a dry eye in the house wouldn't come close to doing the night justice.
We've been treated to some wonderful moments by student musicians at the Lee auditorium through the years, and I just thought last Christmas' orchestra concert, the spring concert by the UTEP Wind Symphony and this year's UIL band concert with "Angels" and Carmina" were the three finest musical moments I'd enjoyed in Midland. Until Tuesday night, a night that anyone who witnessed will likely remember for a long, long time.
Kudos, too, to Bo Garza, for putting the event together and for pulling off one of the classiest farewells and tributes I've ever had the pleasure to witness. The program is unquestionably in good hands with him running it.
And a big congratulations to Mrs. McAfee. If Tuesday night's display of admiration was any indication, she is no doubt one of those teachers you often only hear about: the kind that transforms lives -- something she has unquestionably done many times during her career.